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A New York Times Notable Book From Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times-bestselling author Deborah Blum, the dramatic true story of how food was made safe in the United States and the heroes, led by the inimitable Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, who fought for change By the end of nineteenth century, food was dangerous. Lethal, even. "Milk" might contain formaldehyde, A New York Times Notable Book From Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times-bestselling author Deborah Blum, the dramatic true story of how food was made safe in the United States and the heroes, led by the inimitable Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, who fought for change By the end of nineteenth century, food was dangerous. Lethal, even. "Milk" might contain formaldehyde, most often used to embalm corpses. Decaying meat was preserved with both salicylic acid, a pharmaceutical chemical, and borax, a compound first identified as a cleaning product. This was not by accident; food manufacturers had rushed to embrace the rise of industrial chemistry, and were knowingly selling harmful products. Unchecked by government regulation, basic safety, or even labelling requirements, they put profit before the health of their customers. By some estimates, in New York City alone, thousands of children were killed by "embalmed milk" every year. Citizens--activists, journalists, scientists, and women's groups--began agitating for change. But even as protective measures were enacted in Europe, American corporations blocked even modest regulations. Then, in 1883, Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, a chemistry professor from Purdue University, was named chief chemist of the agriculture department, and the agency began methodically investigating food and drink fraud, even conducting shocking human tests on groups of young men who came to be known as, "The Poison Squad." Over the next thirty years, a titanic struggle took place, with the courageous and fascinating Dr. Wiley campaigning indefatigably for food safety and consumer protection. Together with a gallant cast, including the muckraking reporter Upton Sinclair, whose fiction revealed the horrific truth about the Chicago stockyards; Fannie Farmer, then the most famous cookbook author in the country; and Henry J. Heinz, one of the few food producers who actively advocated for pure food, Dr. Wiley changed history. When the landmark 1906 Food and Drug Act was finally passed, it was known across the land, as "Dr. Wiley's Law." Blum brings to life this timeless and hugely satisfying "David and Goliath" tale with righteous verve and style, driving home the moral imperative of confronting corporate greed and government corruption with a bracing clarity, which speaks resoundingly to the enormous social and political challenges we face today.


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A New York Times Notable Book From Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times-bestselling author Deborah Blum, the dramatic true story of how food was made safe in the United States and the heroes, led by the inimitable Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, who fought for change By the end of nineteenth century, food was dangerous. Lethal, even. "Milk" might contain formaldehyde, A New York Times Notable Book From Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times-bestselling author Deborah Blum, the dramatic true story of how food was made safe in the United States and the heroes, led by the inimitable Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, who fought for change By the end of nineteenth century, food was dangerous. Lethal, even. "Milk" might contain formaldehyde, most often used to embalm corpses. Decaying meat was preserved with both salicylic acid, a pharmaceutical chemical, and borax, a compound first identified as a cleaning product. This was not by accident; food manufacturers had rushed to embrace the rise of industrial chemistry, and were knowingly selling harmful products. Unchecked by government regulation, basic safety, or even labelling requirements, they put profit before the health of their customers. By some estimates, in New York City alone, thousands of children were killed by "embalmed milk" every year. Citizens--activists, journalists, scientists, and women's groups--began agitating for change. But even as protective measures were enacted in Europe, American corporations blocked even modest regulations. Then, in 1883, Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, a chemistry professor from Purdue University, was named chief chemist of the agriculture department, and the agency began methodically investigating food and drink fraud, even conducting shocking human tests on groups of young men who came to be known as, "The Poison Squad." Over the next thirty years, a titanic struggle took place, with the courageous and fascinating Dr. Wiley campaigning indefatigably for food safety and consumer protection. Together with a gallant cast, including the muckraking reporter Upton Sinclair, whose fiction revealed the horrific truth about the Chicago stockyards; Fannie Farmer, then the most famous cookbook author in the country; and Henry J. Heinz, one of the few food producers who actively advocated for pure food, Dr. Wiley changed history. When the landmark 1906 Food and Drug Act was finally passed, it was known across the land, as "Dr. Wiley's Law." Blum brings to life this timeless and hugely satisfying "David and Goliath" tale with righteous verve and style, driving home the moral imperative of confronting corporate greed and government corruption with a bracing clarity, which speaks resoundingly to the enormous social and political challenges we face today.

30 review for The Poison Squad: One Chemist's Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

  1. 5 out of 5

    Brenda A

    Dude. The Industrial Revolution, for all its major leaps toward with invention and innovation, definitely fucked over some people. Like a lot of people. The biggest take away from this nonfiction book is that given the opportunity, big business will screw us over tenfold unless someone holds them accountable. They put copper, lead, formaldehyde and so much more in our food. Kids died from drinking milk. That’s so mind boggling that I had to reread the paragraphs focused on that. Paragraphs, plural, Dude. The Industrial Revolution, for all its major leaps toward with invention and innovation, definitely fucked over some people. Like a lot of people. The biggest take away from this nonfiction book is that given the opportunity, big business will screw us over tenfold unless someone holds them accountable. They put copper, lead, formaldehyde and so much more in our food. Kids died from drinking milk. That’s so mind boggling that I had to reread the paragraphs focused on that. Paragraphs, plural, because it HAPPENED MORE THAN ONCE OVER SEVERAL YEARS. This author does an amazing job of compiling all of the information together in a cohesive form. There’s a inordinate amount of information within these pages and while it can get a bit dense and repetitive, it never lost my interest. I’m so glad I had the opportunity to read it and I’m going to make damn sure everybody knows to read it. FIGHT THE MAN! (Or just hold corporations like Coca-Cola accountable)

  2. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    During his successful 2016 campaign for the White House, Trump promised to have his cabinet "submit a list of every wasteful and unnecessary regulation which kills jobs, and which does not improve public safety, and eliminate them." His FDA commission, Scott Gottlieb, followed that promise by saying what while he recognizes the importance of food safety legislation he wants to "strike the right balance" in its implementation. Consumer groups now anticipate delayed and reduced protections from ag During his successful 2016 campaign for the White House, Trump promised to have his cabinet "submit a list of every wasteful and unnecessary regulation which kills jobs, and which does not improve public safety, and eliminate them." His FDA commission, Scott Gottlieb, followed that promise by saying what while he recognizes the importance of food safety legislation he wants to "strike the right balance" in its implementation. Consumer groups now anticipate delayed and reduced protections from agencies facing deep budget cuts. The Earthjustice Institute has warned of the "Trump administration's willingness to accommodate even unfounded and partial industry opposition to the detriment of the health and welfare of people and families across the country." Such a warning, with its mix of theatrical anger and genuine dismay could have been written, almost word for word, by Harvey Washington Wiley more than a century ago. The sense of deja vu, echoing down the years, should remind us of the ways that food safety practices have dramatically changed in this country--and of the ways they have changed hardly at all. (The Poison Squad, pg. 289) I found this book while browsing in my local library and picked it up because public health is always an interesting topic to me. It took me a little while to get started on this book, but once I did I could hardly put it down. The Poison Squad follows Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley in his career primarily as chief chemist for the Department of Agriculture, explains how his research on altered and deliberately unlabeled/mislabeled products came to shape his advocacy for safe and pure (or, at the very least, properly labeled) food and drink, and illustrates for readers the parallels between the complaints and schemes of business of decades ago and the complaints and schemes of business today. Just like the Earthjustice statement could have been written by Dr. Wiley, The Poison Squad is littered with quotations from 19th and 20th century businessmen, their lawyers, and the their lobbyists, that could be written - word for word - by the industry-at-any-cost interests of today. I knew about a couple of the cases cited in the text - the poisoning of children with milk that had been 'preserved' with formaldehyde, the mass poisoning of mainly children by Elixir Sulfanilamide - but not the vast majority. Well written, informative, and very, very relevant, The Poison Squad was an amazing book and it is one that I would highly recommend. However, given that a good many of the descriptions are graphic, I have one caveat: I would try not to recommend The Poison Squad to someone who didn't have at least an ok tolerance for nauseating descriptions, the likes of which are extremely likely to cause intense revulsion at the very idea of some things once being considered 'food.' For example: Doctors continued to worry over continued reports of "grocer's itch," a side effect of the deceptive practice of grinding up insects and passing the result off as brown sugar. Sometimes live lice survived the process. (The Poison Squad, pg. 66) The secretary [of agriculture, Wilson] also had endorsed a November decision to seize fifty-two industrial-sized cans of eggs preserved in a 2 percent solution of boracic acid. The Hipolite Egg Company of St. Louis sold these huge cans--forty-two pounds each--to the baking industry at a price much lower than fresh eggs. Hipolite specialized in salvaging dirty, cracked, and even rotting eggs for use in breads and cakes. The company was particularly known for using "spots" (decomposing eggs); mixing their contents into a thick, homogeneous mass; using boracic acid, a by-product of borax [the cleaning product also used for pest control] to halt further decomposition; and then selling the eggy soup by the can. (The Poison Squad, pg. 203) New options [for coloring agents] arose with synthetic dyes made from coal tars--dense, chemically complex residues left over the processing of coal...The new dyes were durable, cheap, and potent--and rapidly adopted by industrial processors of everything from fabric to food. (The Poison Squad, pg. 229) The organizers [of the pure food exhibit] decided to exhibit two thousand different brands presenting tainted food and drink sold in the United States. ...Minnesota and South Dakota sent sheets of silk and wool, each five feet square, brilliantly colored with coal-tar dyes extracted from a variety of strawberry syrups, ketchup, jams and jellies, and red wine. Michigan sent samples of lemon extract in which the manufacturer had used cheap but deadly wood alcohol as a base. Illinois provided more faked extracts, such as "vanilla" made only of alcohol and brown food coloring...Participating states provided forty brands of ketchup, labeled as a tomato product, that were mostly stewed pumpkin rind dyed red, and some fifty brands of baking powder that were largely well-ground chalk enhanced by aluminum compounds. To the fury of food industry executives, the fair's head of publicity, Mark Bennett, send out a news release titled "Lessons in Food Poisoning," which noted: "If you want to have your faith in mankind rather rudely shaken, take the time to look about in the exhibit of the State Food Commissioners in the south end of the Palace of Agriculture." (The Poison Squad, pg. 115) This is a small sampling of just what I could easily find and could be easily understood from a relatively short quote. I personally think the text is all the better for including these details; they do not allow industry malpractice and unethical behavior to hide behind the veneer of polite wording. I think it is necessary the same way that Upton Sinclair's graphic descriptions of the Chicago stockyards and packing plants were necessary (The Jungle, as well as other information about it and the yards themselves are also quoted, by the way). But, because I know not everyone has the same opinion as me, I would try to take into account personal taste when making - or choosing not to make - a recommendation.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Mark

    Another superb book by Deborah Blum. Like her previous book, The Poisoner's Handbook, Blum dives deep into our recent past to show how different we were in some ways just a century ago, and yet how alike we are in many respects. The Poisoner's Handbook told the story of the birth of forensic science, along with the frighteningly common availability of murderous poisons in the early 1900s. The Poison Squad tells the story of the birth of pure food and drug laws in the United States, led largely by Another superb book by Deborah Blum. Like her previous book, The Poisoner's Handbook, Blum dives deep into our recent past to show how different we were in some ways just a century ago, and yet how alike we are in many respects. The Poisoner's Handbook told the story of the birth of forensic science, along with the frighteningly common availability of murderous poisons in the early 1900s. The Poison Squad tells the story of the birth of pure food and drug laws in the United States, led largely by a single iron-willed man, Harvey Washington Wiley, although he had a lot of help from crusading reformers, muckraking journalists and state food inspectors. Wiley came of age in the late 1800s, when the desire of food manufacturers to provide cheap products in an age before refrigeration caused them to dose their food with preservatives that seem almost ludicrously dangerous today --borax, sodium benzoate, and even formaldehyde. For purely deceptive purposes, they also produced ketchup with no tomatoes, coffee with no coffee, and whiskey with no whiskey. At a time when American activists were seeking reform on many fronts -- women the right to vote, temperance committees a ban on alcohol, Teddy Roosevelt an attack on monopolies -- the pure food movement became another plank in this broad reformist effort, and Wiley was its leading figure. The title of the book comes from an experiment that Wiley put together while running the Bureau of Chemistry in the Department of Agriculture, which for ethical reasons might never occur today. To test how safe various preservatives were, he recruited volunteers -- mostly young single men working for the federal government -- and put them on a strictly regulated diet, with some in the group getting regular food and others adding capsules of whatever preservative he was studying. By doing this, Wiley was able to show the dangers of substances like sodium benzoate and formaldehyde -- none of his young men died, but some got very sick -- and refute the arguments of manufacturers that the preservatives were harmless. After years of campaigning, both through his bureau's careful testing and through his charismatic speaking appearances, Wiley finally managed to persuade Congress and President Roosevelt to pass a pure food and drug act. But once the bill was signed into law in 1906, the manufacturers did everything in their power to dilute it, and years of fighting and court battles remained ahead. Throughout most of this period, Wiley was saddled with a particular burden. His boss, Agriculture Secretary James Wilson, served under four presidents and was so industry-friendly that he blunted much of what Wiley was able to do, prohibiting him from publishing scientific findings, blocking him from speaking appearances, and finally appointing a special committee that had the power to overrule many of Wiley's recommendations. Despite all those roadblocks, Wiley became enormously popular both within his agency and with the broader public, and when he finally decided to leave government service, he was given a prominent position and much higher pay as a consultant and author for Good Housekeeping, then a powerhouse magazine for America's educated women. The magic Blum brings to these books is her ability to take government reports, transcripts of testimony and court hearings and other dusty tomes and bring them to life, infusing this critical change in our attitudes toward government regulation with humanity and drama. And while we no longer face borax and formaldehyde in our food, the elemental struggle between businesses trying to get away with whatever they can for profit, vs. the government preventing their worst excesses through regulation, remains just as powerful an issue today as it did when the Pure Food and Drug law was passed. Highly recommended.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jelena R

    Tedious.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    This author's previous book is one of the most popular I've encountered, in that everyone I know who's read it, loved it. It was about the emergence of forensic medicine (and solving poisoning cases) against the backdrop of Prohibition-era New York. In this work she takes on a scientifically similar topic with a good deal less surrounding jazz and excitement. Early in the twentieth century, the food supply was far from the bucolic ideal we might imagine having existed before the emergence of jun This author's previous book is one of the most popular I've encountered, in that everyone I know who's read it, loved it. It was about the emergence of forensic medicine (and solving poisoning cases) against the backdrop of Prohibition-era New York. In this work she takes on a scientifically similar topic with a good deal less surrounding jazz and excitement. Early in the twentieth century, the food supply was far from the bucolic ideal we might imagine having existed before the emergence of junk food and factory farms. In fact, food purveyors regularly adulterated foods with all sorts of disgusting bulking materials, or added toxic substances like arsenic to achieve bright colors. Some foods were straight-up fakes. The book is full of hair-raising examples. For example, milk producers wanted to stretch their production. "The standard recipe was a pint of lukewarm water to every quart of milk—after the cream had been skimmed off. To improve the bluish look of the remaining liquid, milk producers learned to add whitening agents such as plaster of paris or chalk. Sometimes they added a dollop of molasses to give the liquid a more golden, creamy color. To mimic the expected layer of cream on top, they might also add a final squirt of something yellowish, occasionally pureed calf brains." (loc 236). "Cloves" were made of burned seashells or "pepper" from charcoal and sawdust--and there were few laws restricting any of these practices. Children were poisoned by milk "preserved" with formaldehyde. The main figure here is Dr. Harvey Wiley, who tried to use his role at the Agriculture Department to research food safety and bring about legislation to protect Americans' health. The fundamental problem with this book is that Wiley's career was long and slow-moving, full of bureaucratic maneuvers that don't exactly leap of the page like the juicy revenge poisonings in Blum's previous book. In his personal life, Wiley also romanced a librarian from the Library of Congress, which reads like a painfully prolonged case of mild sexual harassment culminating in the lady taking stock of her independent economic prospects and marrying him. Blum's writing, research, and story-telling are still well-done--this is just a topic that's going to appeal to fewer, and only more patient readers.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Marieka

    This didn’t draw me in like I thought that it would. I generally tear through this type of book, but I’m maybe 5/6 of the way through and stuck, and I’m considering leaving it unfinished. Maybe it’s that it focuses too much on Dr. Wiley and goes into too much detail? I can’t nail down what exactly my issue with this book was, but I was somehow disappointed.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Claudia

    Today, when talking about the safety of our food, we are concerned with MSG; high-fructose corn syrup; trans fats, synthetic sweeteners, artificial colors among others. In the late 1800's into the early years of the twentieth century, you would have been concerned more about arsenic, formaldehyde (yes, embalming fluid); salicylic acid, copper sulfate, and borax being used as preservatives. Coal-tar dyes to make the food appear fresh and bright. Saccharin to replace the more expensive sugar. Acet Today, when talking about the safety of our food, we are concerned with MSG; high-fructose corn syrup; trans fats, synthetic sweeteners, artificial colors among others. In the late 1800's into the early years of the twentieth century, you would have been concerned more about arsenic, formaldehyde (yes, embalming fluid); salicylic acid, copper sulfate, and borax being used as preservatives. Coal-tar dyes to make the food appear fresh and bright. Saccharin to replace the more expensive sugar. Acetic acid replacing lemon juice. So-called neutral spirits colored, flavored and called whiskey. Nitrites to bleach flour to brilliant whiteness. Lead and a variety of minerals in candy. It is suspected that hundreds if not thousands of young children were killed by milk that was more chemical than dairy - the recipe could be a pint of water to each quart of milk after the cream was skimmed off. Add a bit of chalk or plaster of paris for whitening. Molasses to give it a golden color and to replace the cream, a squirt of something that may include pureed calf brains. And don't forget the formaldehyde! Yummy, isn't it? You don't want to know what could be in butter. Food manufacturers were certainly inventive with their additives. Sometimes the only thing missing in the product was what it was advertised and sold as. Of course, what it could include was mashed fruit and vegetable leavings. Charred rope. Sawdust. Crushed nut shells, ground insects and floor sweepings of all kinds. This book is about Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley, a chemist in the employ of the federal Department of Agriculture (the infant FDA) and his fight to eliminate toxic minerals and chemicals from the foods available to the American people. The same chemicals/additives, which were forbidden for use in Europe and Canada, flooded American food. And it was a long, exhausting fight. Utilizing the resources available, Wiley would create his 'poison squads' which would be volunteers who would take in the chemical investigated over a period of time and record any negative impacts on their health. The data would be analyzed and the report released to the public. Of course, the manufacturers fought hard and long. They were all about using cheaper materials instead of authentic, pure food products. Most were certainly were not willing to make the product a few cents more expensive but without toxic additives. But Dr. Wiley had his supporters as well - the AMA, women's groups, several Congressmen and Senators, various state-level secretaries of agriculture, newspaper journalists especially after the publication of Upton Sinclair's The Jungle which blew the lid off the meatpacking industry of Chicago. Fanny Farmer and her famous cookbook. H.J. Heinz that proved that food could be uncontaminated, tasty and appealing to the buying public. 1906 saw the passage of the Pure Food and Drug Act but food industry lobbyists managed to convince industry-friendly politicians to basically weaken and gut the law. But it was a start and Dr. Wiley eventually lost his neutrality in his crusade for unadulterated and safe food which caused tension within the Department of Agriculture. Taking on Coca Cola for their cocaine and caffeine. Taking on the whiskey manufacturers. Saccharin and bread whitening agents. In the end, Dr. Wiley felt the best decision for him and his family was to continue his crusade through a job offered by Good Housekeeping magazine. He never saw the modified Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act of 1938 which corrected the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906. Unfortunately, it took the death of more than a 100 people who were poisoned and killed by cough syrup sweetened by antifreeze. This is a vital book to read. Not just because of how far food safety has advanced over the years but how much more work needs to be done. Additional laws and updates to food and drug regulation over the years is in danger from our current administration as Trump promised to eliminate every unnecessary regulation and it seems that the FDA and its work is once again under fire. Only time will tell if it survives or is stripped of its authority and dominion.

  8. 5 out of 5

    David

    It is heartening to see this excellent new history getting favorable attention on the radio, in newspapers, in online journals, and in both food blogs and science blogs. In addition, there are already many reviews here on Goodreads that adequately summarize and elaborate on this book's fine qualities, so I thought I would allow myself the freedom to write a few words about what the century-old struggle for safer food in the US has to say about current unpleasantness. There are many similarities. I It is heartening to see this excellent new history getting favorable attention on the radio, in newspapers, in online journals, and in both food blogs and science blogs. In addition, there are already many reviews here on Goodreads that adequately summarize and elaborate on this book's fine qualities, so I thought I would allow myself the freedom to write a few words about what the century-old struggle for safer food in the US has to say about current unpleasantness. There are many similarities. It's hard to believe that anyone would construe the liberties we enjoy in the United States as permission to introduce known poisons, insect body parts, rodent excretia, etc., into food, but that's exactly what many food manufactures, big and small, did. Furthermore, attempts to limit known poisons, etc., from the food supply were treated as outrageous examples of government overreach and hysterical attention-seeking. Of course, from this distance, the champions of such “freedoms” look like the villains they were, and their arguments ring extremely hollow. We can only hope that people will be around in a century to give today's analogs the ridicule they richly deserve. Now, of course, the stakes are higher. Instead of simply poisoning an entire country, today's villains have the opportunity to wreck the whole world. This book also reminds how difficult it is to do the right thing. There are many pitfalls. For example, the book's splendidly cantankerous hero, log-cabin-born chemist Harvey Washington Wiley, was a thorn in the side of corner-cutters and quacks of all varieties well into his ninth decade. However, like a lot of people in the do-gooding business, he occasionally loses focus of the main goal and wastes precious time and resources on fringe issues. Wiley, for example, was an enthusiastic consumer of bourbon and pursued a strict definition of what type of restorative should be allowed to bear that proud label. I have been known to favor an occasional snort myself, so I appreciate his enthusiasm, but I recognize bourbon is (as is often said here in The Nation's Capital) not the hill you want to die on. Defending the purity of milk, flour, canned goods, etc., brings a rosy glow of mother- and baby-protecting saintliness to your advocacy. Bourbon – not so much. There are only so many hours in a day, so many battles you can fight. Choose wisely. Speaking of choosing your battles: Wiley knew that his cause was just, and he was for much of his life the smartest person in the room. As a result, he tended to shoot off his mouth and (another Nation's Capital cliché coming up) not suffer fools gladly. Most of the time, people who really needed defending benefitted from this tendency, but when you are in the room with the President of the United States, it's often wise to choose your words carefully, even if (perhaps especially when) the President is a bit of a tool. In Wiley's case, he unnecessarily alienated the affections of Theodore Roosevelt. The consequences were not disastrous, but even Wiley himself admitted that it would have been wiser to keep his trap shut. Finally, remember: the struggle never ends. It's natural enough, when long work results in success, to take a moment out to do a triumphant happy-dance, but remember while shaking what God gave you that your opponents are already looking for ways to roll back your improvements and undermine your good works. As happens similarly today, evil lawyerly minions who opposed Wiley managed to change the wording of legislation and rule-making so that strict guidelines were replaced with weasel words (e.g., “The guidelines now merely banned an undefined 'excessive' amount” (Kindle location 2430)). These words can then be litigated into meaninglessness, and/or cost pesky do-gooders a small mountain of legal fees. This is a fine book about a man whose life work benefitted others. In his lifetime, he received a certain amount of fame and monetary reward for his selflessness, but now he is largely forgotten, while names of murderous racists of the same period and earlier still grace our high schools and highways, and their graven images still infest our parks and public lands. Read this and remember someone worth remembering. I received a free electronic advance review copy of this book via Netgalley and Penguin Random House.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Karyl

    I saw this for sale at B&N and was immediately drawn to it, so I requested it from my library. But before I could get to it, my DVR recorded the episode of American Experience titled The Poison Squad, which is about this exact subject. So if you’re interested in the subject matter, but you aren’t really in the mood to read, I would highly recommend watching that documentary. It features Deborah Blum, the author, so it’s a great summary of the material she covered in this book. Harvey Washington W I saw this for sale at B&N and was immediately drawn to it, so I requested it from my library. But before I could get to it, my DVR recorded the episode of American Experience titled The Poison Squad, which is about this exact subject. So if you’re interested in the subject matter, but you aren’t really in the mood to read, I would highly recommend watching that documentary. It features Deborah Blum, the author, so it’s a great summary of the material she covered in this book. Harvey Washington Wiley was a man on a mission. At the time that he became the chief chemist of the US Department of Agriculture in 1883, food safety in America was non-existent. Cows were fed the swill from breweries, and the resulting milk they gave was watery and lacking much nutrition. They were chained upright in their stalls and forced to give milk until they fell over dead. Canned food started with rotting and decaying scraps brought back to life with dangerous additives. Flour was bleached with nitrogen oxides, leaving large doses of nitrates in the resulting product, which couldn’t be baked out. Not only were there no laws regulating what chemicals and preservatives could be added to the nation’s food supply, but there were no studies showing how safe or dangerous they were, and there was no requirement for labeling the products either. Containers could have higher bottoms than they appeared to have, making consumers believe they were getting more in a larger container when they really were getting less. And the consumer had no idea exactly what was in the food they were buying, whether they felt it was safe or not; they couldn’t decide for themselves whether to ingest saccharine or copper sulfate or the nitrates resulting from bleaching flour because there was no regulation on any of it. Wiley wanted to change all of that. Initially he sought simply to label food products so the consumer would be informed regarding what s/he was ingesting, but once he started his Poison Squad, in which he fed a team of twelve young men a specific diet over time to test various additives, he realized that the US needed laws against these harmful chemicals. But as in modern times, various lobbies sought to have his research buried so they could continue to make money with impunity. It was mind-boggling, coming off the impeachment hearings in which the Republicans kept making various excuses as to why the hearings weren’t even legitimate, to read about congressmen against any kind of food labeling, with such inane statements of, “The American consumer doesn’t need the government telling him what to eat!” when Dr. Wiley was simply trying to request laws that caused the government to tell the consumer what was in his food so he could decide what he wanted to ingest. It just sounded all so familiar. It also makes me shake my head to know that there are so many people in 21st century America that don’t realize how literally dangerous our food was just over a hundred years ago. In the age of wondering about pesticides and organic farming and “all-natural” foods and folks looking for “raw milk” (ie, un-pasteurized, which I cannot even fathom wanting after reading this book), at least we don’t have formaldehyde mixed into our milk, the sweet taste of which covered up the fact that it was spoiling quickly without pasteurization or refrigeration. And it was this addition of formaldehyde, an embalming fluid and a poison, which killed children that drank the milk. This book is interesting, but it does get bogged down in a lot of names and data. I would actually recommend watching the documentary over reading this book because it’s just so much information that it’s hard to keep a hold of. That said, if reading is more your speed, I highly recommend this book.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Lis Carey

    This is the fascinating, alarming, and encouraging story of the first great round in the fight for food safety in the USA. In the second half of the 19th century, the food industry embraced the chemical industry, and preservatives, colorants, and substitutions became common. This might not sound all that alarming, as all those terms apply to things legitimately used in food now. However, at that time, milk could contain formaldehyde, jellies and jams might contain none of the claimed fruit at all This is the fascinating, alarming, and encouraging story of the first great round in the fight for food safety in the USA. In the second half of the 19th century, the food industry embraced the chemical industry, and preservatives, colorants, and substitutions became common. This might not sound all that alarming, as all those terms apply to things legitimately used in food now. However, at that time, milk could contain formaldehyde, jellies and jams might contain none of the claimed fruit at all and get their color from coal tar dyes, and there were no labeling requirements at all. Basic food safety legislation was making progress in Europe, but was completely squelched by industry efforts in America. In 1883, Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley was appointed chief chemist of the Department of Agriculture, and began a thirty-year crusade for clean, safe, and honestly packaged food. Under him, the agency began methodically investigating fraud in the manufacture and sale of food and drink. This included tests on human volunteers dubbed "The Poison Squad," tests that probably wouldn't pass an ethics committee review now, but were for the time a serious early attempt at controlled testing with informed volunteer test subjects. Among the commonly used preservatives in food at the time, aside from formaldehyde, were borax (a cleaning compound) and salicylic acid (a pharmaceutical). Saccharine was used as a sugar substitute in food products that continued to be labeled, if they were at all, as being sweetened with sugar. Even honest labeling was seen as an outrageous infringement on noble American business. Wiley wasn't just fighting industry greed; he was often fighting politicians in the House and Senate, and even his own colleagues in the Department of Agriculture. On the other hand, he also had allies: the American Medical Association, women's suffrage groups, Fannie Farmer and other popular cookbook writers, women's magazines, and even those companies in the food industry, such as J.B. Heinz, who took pride in their products being manufactured to high standards with only the expected ingredients (ketchup made primarily of tomatoes, for instance.) It's a fascinating battle, with victories and setbacks, and Wiley himself is an interesting character. Nor is he the only interesting character here. It was never a one-man battle, on either side of the fight, and Blum truly does justice to the story. Highly recommended. I bought this audiobook.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Erika Miller

    I'll admit it...I have a lot of trouble with certain types of non-fiction. There is an enormous amount of information in this book, but the title is on point. This was absolutely the story of one man's single-minded crusade to achieve a better world for mankind. It is unfortunate that H W Wiley was not able to see his ideals working the way he envisioned them working during his lifetime. It is unfortunate that a better balance cannot be reached between regulation and letting business run wild. I I'll admit it...I have a lot of trouble with certain types of non-fiction. There is an enormous amount of information in this book, but the title is on point. This was absolutely the story of one man's single-minded crusade to achieve a better world for mankind. It is unfortunate that H W Wiley was not able to see his ideals working the way he envisioned them working during his lifetime. It is unfortunate that a better balance cannot be reached between regulation and letting business run wild. It is unfortunate that to this day, we are still a reactionary society...big business fights against regulation...the public keeps their heads buried in the sand...but then disaster strikes and everyone scrambles to right the wrong and fight future injustices. I feel that this was worth reading. A bit repetitive at times, but an accurate depiction of everything it takes to create and enforce a regulation that works.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Leah K

    A fascinating look at the beginning of the FDA and the man who made it possible. Definitely kept me interested. We've come so far and have so much further to go.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jillian Doherty

    Page turning and solicitous! This incredible story widens the view of what we think we know about how our nation’s food. From flood shavings in the chowder, to exactly how much plaster makes sour milk looks just right again – this book is for anyone who loves reading about history that you can’t believe is true. Where the Food Explorer took us on a wild ride, discovering where our food came from – this wowzers of a history will make you sooooo glad we had Dr. Wiley on our side ensuring we aren’t Page turning and solicitous! This incredible story widens the view of what we think we know about how our nation’s food. From flood shavings in the chowder, to exactly how much plaster makes sour milk looks just right again – this book is for anyone who loves reading about history that you can’t believe is true. Where the Food Explorer took us on a wild ride, discovering where our food came from – this wowzers of a history will make you sooooo glad we had Dr. Wiley on our side ensuring we aren’t poisoned daily! Galley borrowed from the publisher.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Mary

    Fascinating but, at the same time, deeply disturbing, account of the decades-long effort by Dr. Harvey Wiley, a chemist in the U.S. Department of Agriculture at the beginning of the 20th century, to protect consumers from adulterated food and drugs. A hundred years ago, Dr. Wiley's name was probably familiar to most Americans. My thanks to author Deborah Blum for reminding us of his important contributions, which continue to improve our lives today.

  15. 5 out of 5

    John Poertner

    Great documentation of Dr Wiley’s pure food and truth in labeling struggles. The challenge continues.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Ailith Twinning

    I keep trying to tell people that things are always more the same than you can imagine - this book is a new go-to to try and show that.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jimmy

    The author gives many examples of deceptive food practices in the 1800s and the turn of the century. Here is one: Honey was often tinted corn syrup. Without laws and regulations, how would we stop such unscrupulous practices? A few years ago I heard a friend complain about laws in California that required honey makers to register with the state for quality control. They forget that there are reasons for regulations. The book is a tribute to the great Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley who in 1883 as a The author gives many examples of deceptive food practices in the 1800s and the turn of the century. Here is one: Honey was often tinted corn syrup. Without laws and regulations, how would we stop such unscrupulous practices? A few years ago I heard a friend complain about laws in California that required honey makers to register with the state for quality control. They forget that there are reasons for regulations. The book is a tribute to the great Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley who in 1883 as a young chemist first wrote a paper exposing such practices. And guess who opposed him? The honey producers themselves. They thought it would do harm to their reputations. So the trade journals attacked him. All the while ignoring the fact that many "beekeepers" had NO BEES. A report on milk production in 1850 reads like a horror story. The cows lived in misery, and the children drinking the milk were sick and often dying. Wiley became famous as a chemist doing his best to expose such practices. He was hated by some as a man "who is doing all he can to destroy American business. Lead solder was used to seal the seams of tin cans. Europe regulated the use of lead, but the US had no standards even for food. This libertarian philosophy continues even to today. We have many who want the companies to regulate themselves. A dose of history might get them to think again about such a philosophy. Medicines were often little more than flavored drinking alcohol. Legislation was constantly flouted. Businesses opposed even the idea of a pure food and drug act. Wiley found support from women's organizations. One area of concern was a famously stimulating soft drink known as Coca-Cola. They wanted the company to drastically reduce the amount of cocaine in its formula. It also contained caffeine. That is still a problem. https://teens.drugabuse.gov/blog/post... Upton Sinclair, another hero, had a grubstake of $1,000 (about $30,000 today) to work on a novel about the courageous workers of the Chicago stockyards who were fighting for better living conditions. He would spend 7 weeks in the stockyards dressing in the grubby clothes of a worker to blend in. He would settle down to write the most influential book of his prolific career: The Jungle. It was about a Lithuanian immigrant with the dream of a better life in America. But he is nearly destroyed by the horrendous working conditions of the fictional "Anderson" meat-processing company. That name stood for Armour Meats. The conclusion of the book is that the only way out is to embrace socialism. Sinclair wanted to focus on workers' rights, but it was the meat stories that affected the reading public. Once again, it showed that there is always a connection between social justice and good environmental protection. From Upton Sinclair's book The Jungle, we learn such things as how pickled beef had to be bathed in acid; the men working that line had their fingers eaten away by repeated exposure. Tuberculosis germs thrived in the moist, stinking air of the processing plants and spread from animal to animal. Workers occasionally fell into vats of acid and "when they were fished out, there was never enough left of them to be worth exhibiting." Sometimes a worker would slip into a vat and be "overlooked for days till all but the bones of them had gone out into the world as Anderson's Pure Beef Lard." Everyone knew he meant Armour's. Poisoned bread was put out to control the rat population. "Then the rats, bread, and meat would go into the hoppers together." One hero in the publishing industry was Isaac Marcosson, who pushed to have Sinclair's book published by Doubleday, Page, & Company. Sinclair was discouraged, even though his book sold well and made a great impact. He said, "I aimed for the public's heart, and by accident I hit it in the stomach." All anyone cared about was their food and not the workers who suffered miserably. The whiskey makers did not want to have labels to show the dyes, additives, and synthetic alcohol in their products. They warned it would hurt taxes. Manufacturers in almost every industry joined together to fight any sign of food, drink, or drug regulation. Some things never change. Passing the Food and Drug Act in 1906 did not end the troubles. Wiley would be attacked constantly for the rest of his life. Manufacturers would spend all their time and money trying to gut the law. Just like they do today with our Consumer Protection Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Endangered Species Act, and every regulation on the book designed to protect us all. One other tactic still used today was to limit funding of these laws. Then there are not enough inspectors. Cheating continues. The exception often proves the rule. There was one man and one company that tried to do it right: Heinz. They advertised a ketchup free from additives. It costs a few cents more, but they convinced consumers it was worth it. His company fought for pure food and decent working conditions. The fact that he was the only one shows how bad things were. Cocaine was famously used in Coca-Cola. Also many "soothing syrups" for children were laced with morphine, heroin, and chloral hydrate. Same for cough syrups and asthma medications. I salute the heroic life of Dr. Wiley. He believed in the power of science to benefit society. He said, "The freedom of science should be kept inviolate." In today's world we could use that type of idealism again. The President of the United States of America fights science all the time, and his party and others enable him. The so-called libertarian/conservative movement supports them. There is nothing conservative about such people. Nothing. We need to carry on Dr. Wiley's fight and never give up.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Sheri

    So I have come across this book several times as a good historical account of the development of the FDA. While current politics are highlighting the exact problems with big business and government officials (Trump defunding the EPA and deregulating pork manufacturers are two easy examples), this book feels sadly timely. Polices are always (it seems) a balance between protecting the lower classes and negotiating with big business: "The story of consumer protection in the United States is often t So I have come across this book several times as a good historical account of the development of the FDA. While current politics are highlighting the exact problems with big business and government officials (Trump defunding the EPA and deregulating pork manufacturers are two easy examples), this book feels sadly timely. Polices are always (it seems) a balance between protecting the lower classes and negotiating with big business: "The story of consumer protection in the United States is often the story of a country playing defense, an account of government regulators waking up, time and again, to yet another public health crisis". That said, the was an super easy read and gives a good historical account of the process by which Americans began to understand that adulterated food was not a good thing. I found it not compelling at times, but I have also been very busy and distracted this week with other things. I probably would have enjoyed it more at a different time. Overall it is an important and approachable book, but in this moment of COVID coupled with racial protests over our incompetent criminal justice system it felt like just another example of American individualist culture putting capitalist pursuits over equality for all.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Bill

    Fascinating.You'll never look at packaged food the same after reading this. Should be required reading for the naive libertarians who have forgotten what an unrestricted market will devolve into and the lengths it will go to protect itself. They still test food for floor sweepings to this day and we have the tireless efforts of the folks in this book to thank for that. I learned a lot from this book, including that Upton Sinclair's The Jungle was actually a socialist book and Sinclair was disapp Fascinating.You'll never look at packaged food the same after reading this. Should be required reading for the naive libertarians who have forgotten what an unrestricted market will devolve into and the lengths it will go to protect itself. They still test food for floor sweepings to this day and we have the tireless efforts of the folks in this book to thank for that. I learned a lot from this book, including that Upton Sinclair's The Jungle was actually a socialist book and Sinclair was disappointed the public reaction was more about the meat rather than the workers. Docked one star since it felt a little repetitive due to structuring the story around Wiley's life, which was relatively boring, but definitely recommended. It's the kind of book with WTF moments you'll feel compelled to share with those around you.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    An interesting account of the fight for the first Pure Food and Drug Act in early 20th century America, led by a scientist in the USDA’s chemistry bureau. Recounts tireless efforts to uncover and eradicate hazardous additives that food manufacturers were using to increase profits at the expense of public health (formaldehyde to preserve milk, sawdust in coffee and flour, dangerous preservatives.) Parallels to a lot of the same fights being waged against the food industry today (eg: added sugars, An interesting account of the fight for the first Pure Food and Drug Act in early 20th century America, led by a scientist in the USDA’s chemistry bureau. Recounts tireless efforts to uncover and eradicate hazardous additives that food manufacturers were using to increase profits at the expense of public health (formaldehyde to preserve milk, sawdust in coffee and flour, dangerous preservatives.) Parallels to a lot of the same fights being waged against the food industry today (eg: added sugars, trans fat, labeling, “generally recognized as safe,” etc.) Would have liked a more generalized history of this effort rather than this rather narrow, semi biographical focus on one personality, albeit a key one.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Siobhan Ward

    I read Blum's book, The Poisoner’s Handbook last year and loved it, so I thought this might be a good start to the year. While I liked it for sure, I didn’t love it as much as I loved The Poisoner’s Handbook. I loved the idea of the book and still really enjoyed Blum’s writing, I just didn’t find the topic quite as engaging.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Vaira Selvakani

    Definitely an eye opener into how FDA dealt with adulteration and consumer food safety. Worth the read.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Papaphilly

    What an amazing book. This is both truly well written and a reminder how history repeats. if you hear about how good the food used to be, this book reminds you how good the food really was not. The Poison Squad: One Chemist's Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century is history at its best. Told with a reporter's eye, but with humanity, Deborah Blum never lets the reader forget what is at stake. She spins a tale that reads like a well written novel, but never str What an amazing book. This is both truly well written and a reminder how history repeats. if you hear about how good the food used to be, this book reminds you how good the food really was not. The Poison Squad: One Chemist's Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century is history at its best. Told with a reporter's eye, but with humanity, Deborah Blum never lets the reader forget what is at stake. She spins a tale that reads like a well written novel, but never strays from the main pint of the book. This is the story of America's food purity law and the battle that started at the turn of the twentieth century and continues to this day. What comes across very well is this is the type of battle that is waged throughout American history. I was amazed at the companies that are under fire today were under fire then too. I am also amazed how certain brands were always industry leaders in both quality and purity. The same arguments portrayed the are used today. It is too expensive, it will not hurt the public, the government has no oversight to name just a few. The Poison Squad: One Chemist's Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century is also about iconoclastic personalities. Dr. Wiley, the main focus of the book is so single minded, he cannot comprehend compromise. This is both an excellent history and an excellent read.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Erin

    Listened to audiobook. I may be more interested in this book than your average American because I do work with agriculture regulations, but I loved this snapshot of the Dr. Wiley and the eventual creation of the FDA. It is both comforting and frustrating to see that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I believe there will always be an inherent friction between the public's and the government's tolerance for risk. With anything, there is no way to promise that risk and harm can b Listened to audiobook. I may be more interested in this book than your average American because I do work with agriculture regulations, but I loved this snapshot of the Dr. Wiley and the eventual creation of the FDA. It is both comforting and frustrating to see that the more things change, the more they stay the same. I believe there will always be an inherent friction between the public's and the government's tolerance for risk. With anything, there is no way to promise that risk and harm can be completely eliminated from any system, and this includes the American food supply. However, by funding research and using science to make thoughtful and effective regulations (i.e. with enforcement fully funded), we can mitigate great amounts of risk and make the food supply safe for the public. It is also interesting to see how "owning" your work in the government can really blind a person to the ever changing circumstances and inevitably hamstring their own work and mission. I'd like to shake some of my colleagues sometimes and say, "You don't own this. This is not YOUR program. It is the program you manage for the taxpayers". As soon as you add your own ego to your work, you can no longer be the objective manager/worker you were hired to be. If you want ego, go into private industry. If you are in public service, check your ego at the door. Dr. Wiley lost that objectivity later in his career and life and it made him less effective in his job.

  25. 5 out of 5

    E

    Clearly well-researched, it's a look into the life of Dr. Harvey Wiley and also the precursor department to what we know as the FDA today. It's both fascinating and horrifying, the list of preservatives and agents that industry manufacturers considered common to put in their food for the masses. No one will be surprised that half of one chapter is devoted to Upton Sinclair and "The Jungle" but how many people know that the federal government put Coca-Cola on trial? I'd recommend this book to any Clearly well-researched, it's a look into the life of Dr. Harvey Wiley and also the precursor department to what we know as the FDA today. It's both fascinating and horrifying, the list of preservatives and agents that industry manufacturers considered common to put in their food for the masses. No one will be surprised that half of one chapter is devoted to Upton Sinclair and "The Jungle" but how many people know that the federal government put Coca-Cola on trial? I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys history, chemistry or food.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jeimy

    This is billed as a fascinating story about how food was made safe in America, but I have to disagree with the second part of that statement. It is about how food was made safer. However, it doesn't take much for readers to see how much our capitalistic government bends to serve the whims of corporations. Food adulterations continue to occur. Read this book to understand how much has improved and ponder how far we still have to go.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Judy Monchuk

    What a fascinating and frightening read. This history of the fight for food safety laws in the United States is a disturbing page-turner that literally kept me up at night because I didn’t want to put it down. As food manufacturers in the late 19th century embraced chemicals as preservatives, sweeteners or colourants to keep food bright and tasty, they were under no obligation to tell customers what was in their milk or meat, coffee or candy. Whiskey might not even be whiskey. Children died after What a fascinating and frightening read. This history of the fight for food safety laws in the United States is a disturbing page-turner that literally kept me up at night because I didn’t want to put it down. As food manufacturers in the late 19th century embraced chemicals as preservatives, sweeteners or colourants to keep food bright and tasty, they were under no obligation to tell customers what was in their milk or meat, coffee or candy. Whiskey might not even be whiskey. Children died after drinking “chemically improved” milk, canned meat sent to soldiers fighting in the Spanish-American war was described as “embalmed beef.” Formaldehyde was used to deal with the sour taste of milk and extend its life, while chalk was added to whiten it. Borax improved the taste of rancid butter, candy was coloured with poisonous dyes that included arsenic or lead. Saccharine (marketed by Monsanto more than a century ago) presented a health risk if consumed in large enough doses, which was likely because it was an unlabelled sweetener in many products: from soft drinks to jam to canned vegetables. There was no requirement for any food to be or even include what it said it was. Spices could be predominantly anything but the pepper or ginger promised on the bottle, which may include burned shells, charcoal and even floor sweepings. Honey was often tinted corn syrup, tea leaves may not be tea and “fraud was not just pervasive; it was standard practice.” Any effort to introduce safety testing or require a breakdown of ingredients was met with sharp resistance from industry, which often received a sympathetic ear in the White House across a handful of administrations. At the dawn of the 20th century, the manufacturer of a formaldehyde-infused preservative called Freezine argued that the public should just embrace whatever chemicals prevented food decay without question, noting “I wish to say that every one of us eats embalmed meat and we know it and we like it.” Weaving all of this together is a biography of chemist Dr. Harvey Wiley, who refused to back down in his quest for consumer protection. Wiley, chief chemist for the US Department of Agriculture, spent decades fighting for regulations, investigation and even basic labelling to inform consumers what was their food or drinks. The Pure Food and Drug Act, passed in 1906, was known to many as “Dr. Wiley’s law” although he is largely a footnote in history today. In his later years, Wiley was bitter about the struggle and the constant pushback from industry for any regulation. Pulitzer Prize-winning science journalist Deborah Blum has done a fabulous job of bringing this era to life and outlining the challenges facing Wiley and others who tried to spotlight the importance of food safety. It’s rare to celebrate the efforts of a civil servant, especially where those who work for the public good are often painted by politicians as an impediment to business, a consideration spelled out in Wiley’s day. It’s also very true in the 21st century, where the current president vowed to eliminate any regulation that kills jobs. The Poison Squad: One Chemist's Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Twentieth Century is a first-rate thriller. 4.5 stars.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Becky

    First sentence from introduction: We tend these days to cast a romantic glow over the foods of our forefathers. In such rosy light, we may imagine grandparents or great-grandparents thriving happily--and solely--on farm-fresh produce and pasture-raised livestock. We may even believe they ate and drank in a world untouched by the chemically enhanced and deceptive food manufacturing practices of today. In this we would be wrong. First sentence from chapter one: The sixth of seven children, Harvey W First sentence from introduction: We tend these days to cast a romantic glow over the foods of our forefathers. In such rosy light, we may imagine grandparents or great-grandparents thriving happily--and solely--on farm-fresh produce and pasture-raised livestock. We may even believe they ate and drank in a world untouched by the chemically enhanced and deceptive food manufacturing practices of today. In this we would be wrong. First sentence from chapter one: The sixth of seven children, Harvey Washington Wiley was born on April 16, 1844, in a log cabin on a small farm in Kent, Indiana, about a hundred miles northeast of the farm where Abraham Lincoln had grown up a few decades earlier. Premise/plot: The Poison Squad is a page-turner. It is the story of Harvey Washington Wiley and the FIGHT for food safety. Wiley wanted LAWS, REGULATIONS, OVERSIGHT. At the very least, he wanted FOOD LABELS that clearly and accurately listed WHAT was in the food (and drinks) being manufactured. Shouldn't milk be milk, sugar be sugar, pepper be pepper, and flour be flour? You'd think so--but that wasn't often the case. Manufacturers were ADDING things to their products--legally since there wasn't a law against--and people--sometimes children--were dying. Though the story mainly focuses on the early twentieth century--up through the first world war--the story begins in the nineteenth century. It isn't Wiley's story alone for he wasn't alone in his fight. There were good guys and bad guys. The manufacturers often were buddy-buddy with politicians. Politicians cared more about staying that way--protecting the interests of businesses and manufacturers--than about public safety. You'd almost think that politicians didn't have families of their own. Then again, this is also a story of class. It was mainly the poor whose food supply was effected. The ultra-rich could always buy fresh food--fresh meat, fresh vegetables, fresh fruit, fresh dairy products. Wiley's argument was that we should CARE what is in our food and care about HOW our food is being handled and processed. My thoughts: Fascinating. Compelling. Scary. Those words are how I'd sum up this biographical must-read. This is an incredible read. It has almost robbed me of any desire I had to TIME TRAVEL. If I ever do time travel, I think I'll bring my own food with me. It was SUPER-SCARY to read accounts about how UNSAFE food was. For example, today we may think that candy is "unhealthy" because of SUGAR but THEN candy was unhealthy because it actually-actually contained POISON. And that's just one example. I'd be surprised if anyone could read this one without starting to share facts or factoids with others. DID YOU KNOW? DID YOU KNOW? DID YOU KNOW? It's just a super-absorbing read that gives much food for thought. Food labels are something that most people take for granted. I know I did for most of my life. All that changed for me--a few years ago. I developed allergies to certain foods as an adult. I now read food labels super-closely. Knowing exactly what is in something is crucial. Wiley is a super-hero; his name should be better known and his work celebrated.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Nicholle

    I give this book 5 stars (out of 5). I loved the science/chemistry and history behind the story. The author is an excellent science writer and wrote such an intriguing story. The parts where she described the politics behind the story were boring to me (I cannot stand politics), but a necessary evil in order to describe how the story played out. This story is about chemist Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley and how he wanted to make sure that all food was safe, or at least labeled, from adulterants. Su I give this book 5 stars (out of 5). I loved the science/chemistry and history behind the story. The author is an excellent science writer and wrote such an intriguing story. The parts where she described the politics behind the story were boring to me (I cannot stand politics), but a necessary evil in order to describe how the story played out. This story is about chemist Dr. Harvey Washington Wiley and how he wanted to make sure that all food was safe, or at least labeled, from adulterants. Such adulterants were arsenic, dyes from coal tar, and boric acid (or borax), just to name a few. He was truly a man ahead of his time because during a time where most individuals (and even companies) were ignorant of science and most companies producing food only cared about making a profit, he strove to make sure food was safe from unnecessary additives (or adulterants) by actually testing the additives to prove that they were in fact harmful to people. Dr. Wiley set up experiments to feed a group of individuals adulterants, such as boric acid, by comparing that group against a control group not being fed adulterants. The data he and his team of chemists generated was not only rigorous and scientific, but also proved his hypothesis that the adulterants being added to food were in fact harmful to people. Taking this data a step further, he extrapolated that if these adulterants were harmful to healthy (male) adults, these adulterants were even more harmful to babies, children, and the elderly. Dr. Wiley fought almost his whole career against the politics of the unscrupulous lobby behind the companies making the adulterated foods. What I found so fascinating was that among the few companies that did mass produce food without adulterants was the company that made Heinz ketchup. The owner behind the ketchup not only wanted to make food without adulterants, but he also wanted to prove that making unadulterated food could be profitable, since that was the main argument behind the companies that adulterated food was that they could not be profitable. What I truly loved about Dr. Wiley was his desire to speak up about the chemistry behind the adulterants, without dumbing it down, to women. He wrote countless articles in magazines and publications geared towards women. He knew that getting women (who make up 50% of the population) on board with his cause would only further his fight in the political arena to achieve his goals. Dr. Wiley even married a suffragist and supported her desire to be jailed for her fight for women to vote. Another aspect I found so fascinating about this book is the role the government needs to play to protect the average American, or consumer, from unregulated business that cares more about profit than the health of the consumer by taking shortcuts. While I read this book the government shut down was occurring. And it also seems the trend in the current administration is to cozy up to big business that may or may not care about the average American consumer in their bottom line. Only time will tell if this is occurring, and unfortunately as history does repeat itself, who (and how many) will have to get sick and or die before government steps in to protect the average American consumer?

  30. 5 out of 5

    Brandon Polzin

    This book was an enjoyable narrative about a story that I never thought I would be interested in. The topic of food safety is a vitally important one, and I am grateful that a person like Harvey Washington Wiley had a lifelong goal of supporting food transparency for the benefit of the United States' citizens. I am a sucker for the time period in American History that a large portion of this book is set in, as Theodore Roosevelt is one of my favorite historical figures. He is painted as a protag This book was an enjoyable narrative about a story that I never thought I would be interested in. The topic of food safety is a vitally important one, and I am grateful that a person like Harvey Washington Wiley had a lifelong goal of supporting food transparency for the benefit of the United States' citizens. I am a sucker for the time period in American History that a large portion of this book is set in, as Theodore Roosevelt is one of my favorite historical figures. He is painted as a protagonist in most of the other books that I've read, so it was amusing to see him portrayed in an antagonistic light here. All that being said, I felt this book had a few shortcomings. I may be spoiled after reading biographical narratives by Siddharta Mukherjee and Edmund Morris, but I felt illustrative descriptions of characters and settings were lacking in this book. I certainly was never bored, but it lacked the fiction-like and seemingly whimsical appeal of other critically acclaimed nonfiction narratives. It may be, though, that the nature of this story was not as exciting as those I am comparing it to, so I don't want to place the blame solely on Blum's shoulders. Another issue I had was the intermittent lack of focus/mislabeling of the book. The subtitle of the book ("One Chemist's...) implies that it is a biography about one man, that man being the aforementioned Wiley. Blum went into great detail about him, but would then move on to other parallel stories that coincided with the progression of food safety within the United States. This was obviously all relevant to the overarching story the book was trying to tell, but because of the excessive breaks from Wiley I felt this book should have been explicitly marketed as a story of food safety as a whole, not JUST as a narrative about Wiley. It's a nitpicky criticism, but I found myself being taken out of the story and thinking about it as I read the book. All in all though, I would recommend this book. I love that there was a "cast of characters" in the beginning to reference to whenever I forgot about a person's name or their significance. I also loved they way Blum used the story of food safety in the USA to emphasize the control that big business has over the way consumers act and think as a whole, and the importance of a dissenting opinion when everyone is all too eager to comply. I would rate this book a 3.5 if I could, but I'll round up because I'm feeling nice. I hope you can get your hands on a copy sometime soon!

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